For many years a healthy, balanced breakfast consisted of a few eggs, a couple strips of
bacon, a serving of fruit, and a single piece of toast.
But, for the last few decades, the public has been told to rely upon endless servings of processed, sugar-laden foods such as a bagels, muffins, cereals, and juices.
As I’ve said before, health and fitness beliefs seem to operate as a pendulum. First things are amazing, then they become less popular, until they are outright feared, before they return in popularity.
Bacon is no different – a few years ago is was beguiled as a cause of cancer but nowadays you can’t go to a market without seeing an organic package of bacon for over $10 a pound, or a local restaurant that doesn’t have bacon as a side for at least 1 of their dishes.
What are the real facts surrounding this food? It is a whole food that anyone could make, found in nature. But it also goes through processing methods that may increase its downsides.
Well, today let’s break things down and explore the objective facts of bacon.
Just to clarify, bacon, regardless of producer or source, is made from the belly of a pig. It is often cured using salt and spices, before being cooked or smoked at a very low temperature for multiple hours. It is then cut into thin strips, packaged, and later fried in a pan.
Let’s start by looking at the actual nutritional quality of bacon – what does it provide us with, for better or worse?
For the sake of simplicity, let’s use 3 strips of bacon as a single serving. Although it is very easy to consume an entire package in one sitting (and I have before), bacon is typically a side or garnish. Below is the nutritional data for 3 strips, or about 1 ounce of bacon:
0 grams of carbs, 9 grams of protein, and 11 grams of fat, including:
3.5 grams saturated, 5 grams monounsaturated, 1.5 grams polyunsaturated fat
The 3 strips fulfill the daily needs of the following vitamins / minerals:
12% Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
6% Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)
6% Vitamin B12
3% Vitamin B6, B2 (Riboflavin), and Panthothenic Acid
6% Zinc, Iron, Magnesium, Potassium, and Copper
What we see here certainly doesn’t qualify bacon as an empty source of calories, but neither does it show bacon to be the most nutritional-dense food.
Similar to any meat or seafood, it has a significant and balanced amount of B Vitamins. It also contains useful minerals that are not found in a lot of modern foods (specifically selenium, zinc, magnesium, and copper).
It contains no carbs which may be good for a typical person working a desk-job, but it also means bacon lacks any fiber to improve gut health. However, it offers a substantial amount of naturally occurring fat and a moderate amount of protein, which could benefit most Americans.
What about the negatives?
During the curing process, a significant amount of sodium is added. While sodium is an essential nutrient, vital for maintaining proper hydration and electrolyte levels, it is very easy to over consume.
Also, most producers add sweeteners (to once again promote overconsumption) and preservatives that may have concerning health effects.
However, the nitrates/nitrites are not the biggest issue. These actually occur naturally in all plant foods, and you’ll even see that “no nitrite added” bacon will list “naturally occurring nitrites from celery salt” in the ingredients. The fact of the matter is, the average person will consume far more nitrites/nitrates from veggies than they ever will from bacon!
Really, the most concerning issue is the sourcing of the meat.
If you raise a pig with plenty of land, allow it to root around for fruit, plants, nuts, small rodents, and occasionally supplement its feed with food scraps from the family dinner table, then the resulting meat will be amazingly nutritious. Pigs raised this way can have as much omega 3 as some fish!
However, if the pig is raised in a commercial feedlot, unable to move or avoid its own waste, pumped full of corn, soy, and wheat, then its meat will have higher levels of inflammatory omega 6 fats and less nutrient-density. Not to mention the disastrous effects this style of “farming” has on the environment!
Now that the objective facts are listed, the decision to include bacon is up to you.
Is the crunch, amazing flavor, and even more addicting smell of fried bacon worth the couple hundred calories (and sodium) it may contain?
For me and my goals, 3 strips of bacon every day for a week is a perfectly healthy incorporation. Then, for the sake of variety, maybe I’ll have breakfast sausages or smoked salmon the following week.
Maybe one Sunday I’ll fry up half a pound of bacon with a massive amount of broccoli and eat it as one meal…but again, I probably won’t have it again for another month or two.
But I also consume no other processed meats or foods with added sodium. If you are eating cold-cuts, you are already consuming the exact same molecules and inputs as bacon, with maybe half the flavor!
So, try to find a local farm with properly raised pigs, buy a few packages of bacon when they are available, and enjoy a few strips now and again – I promise your taste buds will thank you!